Book Review: The Sense of Paper by Taylor Holden

senseofpaperTitle: The Sense of Paper
Author: Taylor Holden
Genre: Modern fiction
Publisher: Bantam Books
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
First line: Fragments of memory pierce her subconsciousness like shards of broken glass.

The subtitle of Taylor Holden’s The Sense of Paper is “A Novel of Obsessions,” and that’s a perfect way to describe this book. It’s part art history, part romance, part psychological thriller; this book was a great way to spend my reading time the past few days.

Charlotte (Charlie) Hudson used to be a war correspondent. She’s seen the worst atrocities imaginable and written about them so that the rest of the world would be informed. And like most war journalists, she thought she was immune to the violence around her – until Kosovo. After being brutally attacked, Charlie gives up journalism, and settles down on the Suffolk coast to write a book about British watercolorist, J.M.W. Turner, and the handmade art paper that he used for his work.

Sir Alan Matheson is a renowned artist and expert on all things Turner and paper. He agrees to collaborate with Charlie on her book, and their relationship quickly develops beyond friendship. But as Charlie gets closer to Alan, she realizes that the fragile connection they have made is vulnerable to the demons in her past – and the secrets Alan is keeping from her. Is he as good as he seems, or is there something sinister hiding under his sensual charisma?

I read The Sense of Paper for the art history challenge, and I loved learning about the history of paper and the paper-making process, as well as how the quality of paper changes the nature of art. I have always liked Turner’s watercolors, and it was interesting to learn more about the man, although I think the portions of the book where Charlie is writing about Turner are the weakest part of the book.

Ms. Holden excels is in writing about psychological turmoil and relationships. The relationship between Charlie and her parents and her grandfather, her relationship with her ex-husband Nick and her best friend Carrie – they are all authentically written, and I began to care about the resolution to each storyline.

Holden gradually reveals the horrors in Charlie’s past, peeling back one layer at a time as Charlie tries to come to a measure of healing. The mystery surrounding Sir Alan is also exposed bit by bit, and I was actually surprised by the ending. I was sure I knew what was coming, but I was wrong. It’s a wonderful thing when an author surprises you!

This is Ms. Holden’s first novel, and there were a few ways in which this showed – most of which could have been fixed with better editing. I find the use of a lot of -ly adverbs distracting: “she smiled thinly” and “the voice inquired gingerly” – that sort of thing. Most of those could have been eliminated, and the writing would have been more crisp and precise. There were also some sentences that were a bit awkward, but those minor details detracted very little from my enjoyment of the book. I will definitely be looking for more of Ms. Holden’s work.

Click over to J.M.W. Turner’s Wikipedia page to see some of his work. Here’s one of my favorites, Chichester Canal:


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12 Responses to Book Review: The Sense of Paper by Taylor Holden

  1. S. Krishna
    Twitter: skrishna

    I’ve never heard of this book, but it sounds really interesting. Thanks for the review!

  2. I love the title of this book, not to mention it sounds really interesting. Thanks for the great review. I’d love to read about the paper making process–especially mixed in with a fictional story like this one.

  3. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread

    Gorgeous picture! It’s nice when you read a book for fun, and end up learning something that you had no knowledge of before. I have no experience with anything artistic so I’m sure it would open up a new world for me.

  4. lilly says:

    I’m glad you liked it because judging from the quote you posted yesterday the book seemed very intriguing and it would be a disappointment if it turned out to not be a good novel on the whole. I’m definitely putting it on my wish list.

  5. Kathy says:

    The book sounds great – too bad it wasn’t edited better.

  6. CarrieK
    Twitter: booksandmovies

    Swapna – this was a complete impulse purchase a few years ago – bought simply because I loved the coer.

    LF – The author describes paper beautifully – it’s smell, it’s teture. She loves her paper!

    Sandy – Most of what I know about art history comes from reading historical fiction.

    Lilly – Good – I hope you like it!

    Kathy – I agree. She has a second novel coming out next year – it will be interesting to see her grow as a writer.

  7. jennygirl says:

    I forgot about this book becasue my library doesn’t have it. Wonderful review and thanks for the reminder.

  8. CarrieK
    Twitter: booksandmovies

    Jennygirl – you’re welcome! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

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  10. Sandra
    Twitter: Fresh_Ink_Books

    This sounds like something I’d enjoy-and I’m doing the Art History challenge too. I hadn’t heard of this book. Thank you.

  11. CarrieK
    Twitter: booksandmovies

    Sandra – I’ve had this on my to-read shelves forever – I was glad the AH Challenge prompted me to finally read it.

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